Shalini Pandey as Susheela in Mahanati.
CHENNAI: Meeting the Arjun Reddy girl, Shalini Pandey, feels like catching up with a long-lost friend. She exudes the warmth and affability of one, and her eyes sparkle. “I don’t know about that, but I am definitely thankful that they are thought to be expressive,” she says with a laugh. The actor understands little Tamil, but can sing all the songs of Sid Sriram. “I am a huge fan of his and can sing Thalli Pogadhey without looking at the lyrics!”
At 24, she is quite clear about the kinds of roles she wants to do in cinema. “I look for roles that excite me, roles that are more than just eye candy. I understand it can take some time to figure it out, and I am absolutely okay with waiting,” she says. In this conversation, she discusses her upcoming films like 100% Kaadhal and Gorilla... Excerpts follow:
Life after Arjun Reddy
“I knew that the film would make a buzz because we were honest and sincere in our approach. It was a script that most of us could relate to, but I didn’t expect that it would become a rage. Even today, I don’t really see myself as an actor. I go to grocery shops wearing an oversized T-shirt and a pair of bathroom slippers. My manager hates it. (laughs) I am not image-conscious, and don’t like to wear make-up. In Arjun Reddy, you saw the real me. I did my own hair for that film. My skin has suffered some damage now because of all the make-up and the harshness of lighting. To answer your question, life hasn’t changed much, except that people want to click selfies with me wherever I go.”
Playing Susheela in Mahanati
“I signed Mahanati before Arjun Reddy got released. When you come from a theatre background as I do, you don’t define roles as ‘hero’, ‘heroine’, ‘side-kick’, etc. And so, I wasn’t apprehensive about doing the role in this film. I knew that Keerthy, Samantha and others were all a part of Mahanati. The moment Nag Ashwin (director) told me that there were portions related to stageplays, I grabbed the opportunity. Screen-time isn’t important. It’s all about impact and self-satisfaction. The makers were trying to do their best to bring out an excellent film, and I did my bit to support their vision. But yes, I wish I had played Savitri gaaru. (smiles) I didn’t know much about her, except that she was Rekhaji’s stepmother. But now, after the film, I’ve new-found respect for her.”
The GV Prakash bond
“In the upcoming 100% Kaadhal starring GV Prakash, I play Mahalakshmi. I chose the film because the story is shown from a woman’s point of view. My role in Arjun Reddy was more subtle, while this one is totally opposite. After Vijay Deverakonda, I can say I am close to Prakash because I see him like my family. I know I can always count on him and his wife Saindhavi whenever I am in Chennai. He’s an amazing co-star, who’s extremely passionate about his craft. Prakash and I share a Tom and Jerry type of relationship (both off and on-screen). We play pranks on each other and fight a lot. Would you believe he stopped considering me as a girl a long time ago? I am his machaan now!”
Unhappiness about portrayal of women in films
“I don’t understand why female characters don’t get the same importance in most of the films. It upsets me that we don’t get taken seriously. Aren’t women equals? Why is a female lead generally always silly, cute and dumb? Why can’t she be sensible, headstrong, and not bubbly? I am sure women have better things to do than chase men in reality. We aren’t that unambitious and naive, come on.”
On acting with a chimpanzee for Gorilla
“For Gorilla starring Jiiva, I got the opportunity to act alongside a chimpanzee. I thought it would be fun, but it wasn’t. I love animals, and wanted to be friendly with this chimpanzee. She kept throwing tantrums though. Every time I walked in, she would jump on me and pull my hair. I got really annoyed. She was nice, however, to all the men including Jiiva.”
The miracle of films
“I didn’t believe in miracles and wasn’t a believer. Then, Arjun Reddy happened. I think I’ve become a better human after becoming an actor. I get life far better than I used to before. I see my characters as an extension of my personality. Theatre was a journey that was more about self-exploration, and my experience there has greatly helped me in films so far.”
1.When I sit for narrations for Tamil projects, I keep wishing I had learnt Tamil. I am working on it. I always listen to the whole story before sign signing a film.
2. I really look up to actors like Madhuri Dixit, Sridevi, Kajol, Kangana Ranaut and Waheeda Rahman.
3. I want to act in a film with Amitabh Bachchan and Kamal Haasan — even if it’s just for five minutes.
4. Stanley Kubrick’s A Clockwork Orange is my all-time favourite film.
5. Someday, I’d like to play a negative role.